The Blog's Mission

Wikipedia defines a book review as: “a form of literary criticism in which a book is analyzed based on content, style, and merit. A book review can be a primary source opinion piece, summary review or scholarly review”. My mission is to provide the reader with my thoughts on the author’s work whether it’s good, bad, or ugly. I read all genres of books, so some of the reviews may be on hard to find books, or currently out of print. All of my reviews will also be available on Amazon.com. I will write a comment section at the end of each review to provide the reader with some little known facts about the author, or the subject of the book. Every now and then, I’ve had an author email me concerning the reading and reviewing of their work. If an author wants to contact me, you can email me at rohlarik@gmail.com. I would be glad to read, review and comment on any nascent, or experienced writer’s books. If warranted, I like to add a little comedy to accent my reviews, so enjoy!
Thanks, Rick O.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

WANDERERS

Chuck Wendig’s chilling novel, Wanderers, is a spectacular work of apocalyptic fiction reminding me and other reviewers of Stephen King’s The Stand. They are similar in that both novels have a raging outbreak that can cause the annihilation of the world’s population. King’s novel has the evil Randall Flagg and Wendig’s novel has the monstrous Ozark Stover. Both antagonists have designs to take control of the USA and beyond during the worldwide turmoil. Politics are involved (another reviewer complaint), but were white noise to me compared to the exciting main drama. Wendig’s novel even mentions The Stand on page 539…”and the world was dying like it’s The Stand.” Hey, it can’t hurt to be compared to King. I don’t know if any other reviewer mentioned the one page prelude, The Comet. What was that for? Anyway, let me tell you a little of the story.

Eastern Pennsylvania: Nessie is the first sleepwalker. Her sister, Shana, sees her empty bed and searches the entire house to no avail. Shana thinks to herself, Nessie ran away again. Dad was already working outside on his cheese dairy farm...she is not with him. Then she spotted Nessie in her PJ pants and pink T-shirt walking down the long driveway heading for the road. Shana tries to wake her up, but Nessie continues walking. “It was then she saw the girl”s eyes. They were open. Her sister’s gaze stood fixed at nothing…dead eyes.” No matter what Shana does stops Nessie. Dad spots the girls. Shana runs back to dad and tells him what’s going on. They jump into his rat-trap pickup to find Nessie, who has already disappeared down the road. They spot Nessie and jump out of the truck to try to stop her. She can’t be stopped. If you try to restrain her, the sound coming from Nessie’s mouth is…”something otherworldly: a whooping, screaming alarm, inhuman in its volume and composition-it grew from that to something animalistic, then the shriek of a wild, vengeful banshee.”

Meanwhile, in Seattle, a Dr. Benji Ray arrives from Hawaii to meet Sadie Emeka, head of The Black Swan program (an offshoot of the CDC). Dr. Ray is updated on the unusual happenings in Pennsylvania. The sleepwalker line that started with Nessie is growing larger by the day. No barrier stops them. They don’t eat, rest, urinate or defecate. They march through any weather (with only the clothes they had on their backs) to an unknown destination. Benji left the CDC (under some dishonor) even though he was the top researcher for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Benji wants to know why she called him in since he burned his bridges with the CDC. Sadie says, “Black Swan (a machine intelligence) did.” “Black Swan did what?”, asks Benji. Sadie answers, “Pointed me toward you.” He narrowed his eyes, “I’m sorry I don’t understand.” She said, “Black Swan wants you, Benji. And that’s why I’m here.”

Someone called the police to stop the surging line. A cop shoots his taser at one of the walkers. It does nothing. When the cop physically grabs the man and stuffs him in the squad car, the walker shook with tremors. Then: “The car shuddered. Something dark sprayed up across all the windows. Something red. The glass broke. Inside the car, the cop screamed. Others outside the vehicle began yelling, too, in panic - some running toward it, others fleeing in the opposite direction. The cop staggered out, covered in...something wet. Red and black. Clutching at himself. It’s gore.” Apparently the walker in the squad car heated up and then literally exploded. That was the last time they tried to stop a walker by force. Where are they going? The band now numbers in the hundreds. The walkers are named the flock and the people taking turns walking on their sides are called the shepherds.

You just got a 50 page taste of this 782 page thriller. With 732 pages ahead of you, I’m envious. Benji, Sadie and Shana are only a few of the many protagonist ahead for your reading pleasure. I haven’t mentioned any of the antagonist...you will easily pick them out. Especially the despicable Ozark Stover. I had no trouble remembering all the different characters...you know why? Because the author used simple names to remember...well, duh! Try to explain that to a Russian writer. Right? Vladimir or Vlatko or Vladik or Vlade or Wladek, etc? Haha. Anyway, I know I’m now going to struggle to find a better book to read. Wait, I have an idea...how about reading another Chuck Wendig novel?

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: Lately, I find myself reading longer books. I think the extra pages gives the author adequate time to develop the story and leave the reader satisfied. I noticed that most of the shorter books come to an abrupt ending and leave the reader no time to decipher or enjoy the ending. Wendig’s novels, like Stephen King’s and Dan Simmons’, leave nothing to the imagination. Wanderers had a good 38 pages left to describe the aftermath after the last shot was fired.
 
If you want to read some good long books, grab hold of Stephen King’s It, or Under the Dome. Try Dan Simmons’, Black Hills, The Terror, or Drood...You will love them.   

Saturday, August 31, 2019

the VAGABONDS

The next time you take a road trip, you can thank four famous Americans for putting the idea in your head to begin with. Jeff Guinn tells the non-fiction story of the ten year summer road trips taken Henry Ford (automotive industrialist), Thomas Edison (inventor), Harvey Firestone (the tire maker) and American naturalist and nature essayist John Burroughs. They didn’t always make the summer trip with all of the four, but most of the time they did. Sometimes they traveled in a  caravan of six to seven vehicles with a large dining tent, butlers, their wives and a professional cook and staff. Other times, they roughed it without all the amenities. Firestone was always in charge of mapping out the trip and making sure hotels were available on the way (if needed). Burroughs was in charge of identifying all the foliage and birds (Ford loved bird-watching with Burroughs). Edison was Edison...overwhelmed by crowds that revered him at every stop. Ford always paid for everything...and I mean everything. Ford was a generous man that always sent over a brand new shiny Model-T to Edison every year at no charge. Other men received  brand new Model-T’s if they pleased him… and that could be as simple as if he liked the way you played a fiddle! (it really happened.) It took Ford awhile to warm up to the crusty Burroughs, who “predicted that automobiles and their drivers would eventually seek out even the most secluded nook and corner of the forest and befoul it with noise and smoke...to him, the Model -T was a demon on wheels.” At the time, there were fourteen million horses on the roads compared to eight thousand cars. What did Henry Ford think of Thomas Edison?...Ford worshipped him.

“Edison and Ford discussed subjects of mutual interest, most business-related, some more general. Edison lectured on the dangers of smoking cigarettes - he claimed that the paper, though not the tobacco, was poisonous when burned.” However Edison chewed tobacco and smoked cigars. Ford immediately outlawed cigarette smoking on any of his properties and factories. In 1915, San Francisco’s telegraph operators hosted a dinner in Edison’s honor (many of Edison’s first inventions involved the telegraph).”The dinner was a merry affair. An estimated four hundred city telegraphers attended. The menu was printed in Morse code, and all the speeches - none by the honoree himself (Edison almost never gave a speech) - were tapped out on telegraphs. While everyone else dined elegantly, Edison asked to be served only a slice of apple pie and a glass of milk (his favorite lunch).” The foibles by Edison and Ford were delightfully recorded throughout this novel by the author, Jeff Guinn. Ford spent a lot of time and money trying to keep the USA out of WWI and went as far as sailing a ‘peace ship’ to Europe in order to get the foes to sit down and make peace, not war. It failed. When America entered the war, Ford converted his factory into making military equipment. Edison spent his time during the war on “the Naval Advisory Board creating devices that would enable America and its Allies to overcome the enemy at sea.” By August 1918, Edison and Ford were worn out and ready for a return to their road trips. You will have to buy your own copy of this wonderful history book that reads like fiction (yea!) to get all the details of the ten years of road trips. You will not need a couple of drops of Visine to get through this book. 

Is it possible that Ford (brilliant in business) was illiterate? He came from a poor family and had to drop out of school after a couple of years. An example of his inadequacies was the way he approached running for Senate or for the president of the USA. In the senate race, he ran as a Republican and a Democrat. He won one nomination, but he lost his bid for Senator by never campaigning, never making a speech and never running an ad...and at a time the whole nation loved him. He would have beaten Calvin Coolidge for President but backed off when Coolidge said he would help Ford get a government project (the Tennessee Valley Authority) that Ford treasured. Ford backed off but never got the project; instead, FDR founded the project in 1933. The best example of Ford’s ignorance was his libel suit against The Chicago Tribune. The newspaper’s lawyer wanted to expose Henry Ford to the jury, and the world, as the ignorant man. The lawyer asked him if he knew anything about history. Ford said he lives in the present. The lawyer asked Ford the date of the American Revolution. Ford guessed, “eighteen-twelve.” The lawyer asked him, “who was Benedict Arnold?” Ford said, “a writer.” Ford’s reasoning was that he didn’t have to know, “because I could hire a man in five minutes who could tell me all about (them).” The lawyer asked Ford to read portions of documents out loud. Ford declined saying he’d forgotten his spectacles. The lawyer pounced on Ford, “I think the impression has been created by your failure to read some of these things...that you could not read.” “Do you want to leave it that way?” Ford said, “Yes, you can leave it that way, I am not a fast reader and I have the hay fever and I would make a botch of it.” The lawyer said, “Can you read at all?” Ford answered , “I can read.” The lawyer said, “Do you want to try it?” Ford said, “No sir.” Ford won the libel suit, but the jury only awarded him six cents.

There is so much to this book that I only touched a small portion of it. Hooray for Jeff Guinn! He wrote one of the few books that I didn’t find anything wrong.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: Ford was fond of Burroughs (the unapologetic old man), who identified all plants, birds or flowers that caught the traveler’s eyes. “In exchange for the privilege of sharing Burroughs’s wisdom, the others overlooked his prickliness and constant complaining.”

Ford considered Firestone a friend on the vagabond trips, but not equals. “Ford paid for everything  and had the overall vision for the trips. Firestone, as a willing lieutenant rather than fellow general, took care of the details.

John Burroughs died at the age of 84 in 1921.
Thomas Edison died at the age of 84 in 1931.
Harvey Firestone died at the age of 70 in 1938.
Henry Ford died at the age of 84 in 1947. 
     

Thursday, August 8, 2019

THE LAST ASTRONAUT

David Wellington writes the best surreal first contact sci-fi novel I’ve ever read. What an unusual ending. I’ve read many novels where a undefined body heads to Earth at a breakneck speed from deep outer space and suddenly decelerates as it nears. If it decelerates...it’s not a comet or asteroid. Wellington kept my attention throughout the novel while delivering empathy for his five or six main characters, which was also to my liking. What else did I like? I liked the lack of technical jargon. You can tell me how something works one time and one time only. And I’m not interested in hard to remember acronyms with two exceptions in this novel...NASA and EVA. What didn’t I like? The last two pages, but I can’t tell you why because it would spoil it for you. It’s not inept, but seemed inconsistent with the direction of the story...maybe a tad careless. A good editor would have pointed that out to the writer. Oh well, I have to find something wrong...don’t I? You probably have noticed that I love the use of an ellipsis.
 
It’s 2055 and astrophysicist Sunny Stevens goes to Houston to meet with Roy McAllister, head of exploration and operations for NASA. NASA has been in the doldrums for the last twenty one years after the failed Mars mission of 2034. The spaceship developed a fuel tank leak, and mission commander Sally Jansen and astronaut Blaine Wilson had to do an EVA outside the ship. A fire broke out and Wilson was burned alive. Jansen was blamed for the death of Wilson and the aborted mission to Mars. For the past twenty one years, no new astronauts were trained since Congress severely cut NASA’s budget. America no longer had an astronaut program. To make matters worse, China successfully landed on Mars. In this atmosphere, Sunny landed in Houston with urgent news.
 
Sunny settles down in McAllister’s office. “Sunny cleared his throat. 21/2054 D1,” he said. McAllister says, “I’m sorry, I don’t think I understand.” “That’s it’s name. Its designation, whatever,” Sunny said. McAllister said to stop babbling. “The message you sent me contained the orbital elements of an...asteroid? Comet? McAllister said, “I had one of our people take a look, and they just about split their skin.” Sunny said, “I have more. More data I can give you.” Sunny had been tracking 21 (the name of the body shortened) for over a year where he worked at KSpace, the commercial leader in space travel. He told his boss about it at KSpace. Sunny said he didn’t hear a peep from his boss. “Somebody had to do something. Somebody had to send a ship to go look at this thing. If KSpace wouldn’t do it, then Sunny was sure NASA would. It would have to. Except judging by the look on McAllister’s face, NASA didn’t necessarily agree.”
 
McAllister said, “So why don’t you tell me why you came here.” Sunny replied, “It’s decelerating, Spontaneously. It’s spontaneously decelerating.” McAllister said, “Welcome to NASA.” Finally someone believed him! Now to get a crew together...the only astronaut with experience was the publicly hated Sally Jansen, the last astronaut. Let the poop hit the fan! Oh, well. That’s my review of the first seventeen pages. I loved this novel, grab a copy...it’s different.
 
RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: I’m a sucker for First Contact novels. I think Carl Sagan’s 1985 novel, Contact, was the first ‘man meets alien/alien meets man’ novel that perked my interest. I also loved Larry Niven’s 1985 novel, Footfall. Earth comes under attack by the ‘elephant look alike’ Fithp from Alpha Centauri. Recently (see my review of 4/18/2019) I read Immortal by Nick M. Lloyd. All three were first contact novels, but totally different.  

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

FALL or, Dodge in Hell

Neal Stephenson’s latest mammoth story (883 pages) is, as usual, a very elaborate, complicated, technical story. It starts off with easy to understand modern day cryonics (you know...freeze the body and bring back to life when the cure is found) and then transmutes into a cloud computing system using a network of remote servers to delve into the connectome of millions of peoples brains. The hoi polloi will line up to sign contracts to have their remains upon death scanned, vaporized, and rebooted into a cloud computing system that guarantees life after death. Welcome to BITWORLD. The story comes up with many speculations that will make your head spin. “We are stuck with the process. We must find ways to keep it running as we learn how to inspect it, and - if it actually does work like a brain - to talk to it.” If you turn the computer off...is it murder? Could your soul always be rebooted if something went badly wrong? Maeve, an amputee with artificial legs, asks, “Does that mean I won’t have legs in Bitworld?” Why do some souls in Bitworld have wings and a few are godlike surrounded by a host of angels? To paraphrase the author, known for speculative fiction, “That he got the idea for this novel from John Milton’s Paradise Lost (published in 1667 - It consisted of ten books with over ten thousand lines of verse), a weird and interesting poem, but wanted to go somewhere with a technological or science fiction slant.” 

Richard Dodge Forthrast was a multibillionaire  who lived in Seattle, Washington. He was at a point in his life that all he wanted to do was spend time with his niece, Zula, and her young daughter, Sophia. His gaming corporation, 9592, was running smoothly and no longer needed his guidance. One day he was going to drop off some books to Sophia and then have lunch with his friend, Corvallis, but first he had to stop by his doctor’s office for a routine procedure (a tinnitus ringing in his ear). His friend, Corvallis, was in the waiting room while Richard was wheeled into the operating room on a gurney. "Richard felt a mask over his nose, a cold gas flooding his nostrils, a hiss". While waiting for Richard, suddenly all hell broke loose. “He (Corvallis) did raise his head and look when the front door of the office suite was punched open by a team of three fireman (EMT’s). Waiting for them was a woman in scrubs. She had made eye contact with the firemen before they even reached the door. As they burst in, she turned on her heel and ran into the back, and they understood that they should follow her...they wheeled the patient out of a room, down the hallway toward the exit. Just like that Richard Dodge Forthrast was brain dead. Corvallis is the named executor on Richard’s living will. Dodge wanted to be frozen for a future awakening. Wow, it was only the first 37 pages. With great enthusiasm I looked forward to the next 800+ pages! Wrong. The book treads water from there on...at least it did for me.

After some jostling and in-fighting among the relatives over the will, the story converts to Sophia taking a cross country trip that takes forever to complete along with Corvallis investigating a fake nuclear attack. That dual interlude gobbles up at least 200 pages! It ruined the momentum of the story. This was 200 pages that didn’t need to be in the book. Finally, the story returned to Dodge’s brain and future improved cryonic’s research. On the plus side, I did enjoy the simulated world of the dead and the battle of heaven and hell starring previous life foes, Richard Dodge Forthrast/Egdod and Elmo Shepherd/El. Talk about technical improvements: “You could hover above the town squares in the cities of the dead and watch them mingle with one another and, to all appearances, talk, trade, fight, and copulate...depending on the current value of the Time Slip Ratio.” (what?) “So it was with speciation on the activities of the dead in Bitworld. In many ways, these were as mundane as they could be. Except that there was one difference, which was psychologically important to living spectators: the dead were dead...but there was no doubt that they had gone on to an afterlife.” So have your thinking cap on and Google on standby when ruthless powerhouse companies battle for the cryonic business. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate the effort Neal Stephenson needed to write this complicated story, it’s just that I’m not a Mensa Society member (close, but no cigar). Every so often, I need to read a book like this (are you listening China Mieville?) to throw a bucket of cold water on my face
   
RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: Whereas this Neal Stephenson novel was a chore to get through, I can think of two oldies that I’ve read that were extra painful to read (at least for me). The toughest was Utopia by Sir Thomas More published in 1516 (see my review of 10/26/2015). It’s the first book that defines utopia as an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect. How many Utopian novels have been written since? Or Dystopian?

The second toughest was The Divine Comedy written by Dante Alighieri and originally published in three books in 1320 (Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso). This mind bender was a long narrative poem highlighting his view of the afterlife.

I needed two large buckets of water to keep me awake.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

WARLIGHT


You would think that a novel about both parents suddenly leaving their two children to be cared for by unknowns in 1945 England would be exciting. But Michael Ondaatje (win a chicken dinner if you can pronounce that last name) has a knack for being boring and dull. The author of the award winning novel, The English Patient gets away with his seemingly anemic story because of his first class prose. Do you remember that episode on the Seinfeld TV show where Elaine is forced to watch the movie (The English Patient) that all her friends and boss loved? She shouts in the theater, “I can’t do this anymore...I hate it...die already!" Anyway, a blitzed out England should be a great milieu for a story. And it is, as we see that the main chaperones for the children are known by Nathaniel (age 14) and Rachel (age 16) as The Moth and The Darter. The story is narrated by Nathaniel, who at the age of twenty-eight, decides to find out the truth beyond their disappearances. Although the mother came back to the kids in about a year, it was like pulling teeth to get the answers of where she was. And when the answers come, the author takes his good old time to pass along the humdrum details to the reader. I liked the novel strictly because of the composition of the writer, but if you are expecting excitement in war torn England...forget it

“One morning either our mother (Rose/Viola), or our father suggested that after breakfast the family have a talk, and they told us that they would be leaving us and going to Singapore for a year.” Really? The father told them that he got a promotion to take over the Unilever office in Asia.They would be put in boarding schools a mile apart and on weekends and holidays they would be cared for by a guardian they previously met at their home. Mom stayed for a week after dad left to pack her steamer trunk and to firm up the boarding school arrangements. The kids could not stand boarding school because, “Everyone there already knew they had been essentially  abandoned.” Luckily, Nat gets caught urinating in the bathroom sink and almost gets expelled if it wasn’t for The Moth talking the School Master into letting the kids become day students only. Once home, the kids meet Moth’s friends. All lovable...my favorite is The mysterious Darter. One day the kid’s find mom’s steamer trunk in the basement. How could she have gone away without all her belongings? That night, Nat asks The Moth, “Where is my father?” Moth says, “I’ve had no communication with him.” Nat says, “But my mother was joining him.” The Moth says, “No...you must believe me, she isn’t there with him.” That’s all happens in the first twenty nine pages.

You know everybody has different opinions. For me the novel was lackluster, while other people will find the story exhilarating. That's what makes the world go around. The author's assets are his prose, his minimal main characters, and his ability to make the reader feel empathy for everyone in the story. I guess I just wasn't wholeheartedly committed to the story line. Anywho, Michael Ondaatje is recognized as a premium writer, so don't let my review stop you from reading his novel. Not for nothing, does anybody know what nationality Ondaatje is? I know he was born in Sri Lanka, spent time in England and now is a Canadian living in Toronto.
 
RATING: 3 out of 5 stars

Comment: I just looked at Goodreads.com’s The 421 most boring books ever. The first 57 on their list (that I’ve read) don’t make any sense to me (except two). The following are their rank of boredom according to Goodreads.com: 
  
(2) Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (1957) - Are they crazy! Number two! One of the greatest books ever written.

(4) The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (1951) - This is one of the exceptions that I agree with.

(26) Life of Pi by Yann Martel (2001) - I didn’t think this novel was boring at all.

(29) A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (1859) - How dare they attack one of the greatest writers of all time.

(32) The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939) - What!!! This book is a classic.

(43) Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1861) - I loved this book, It was required reading in high school. Dickens is going to turn over in his grave.

(46) The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (1390) - I couldn’t agree more! But shouldn’t it be number one? I was forced to read this book in High School.

(52) Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (2004) - A wonderful walk through the world of magic.

(55) David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (1849) - Are you kidding me?

(57) The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (2005) - The best vampire novel ever written and in the epistolary style to boot. 

Thursday, June 13, 2019

the CASTLE

Can Bud Hutchins (PI/inventor) possibly get into anything crazier than his last adventure (see my review of The Elixir on 12/9/2017)? Oh yes he can! Meet Vincentas (“No! No! Please! Plea…) a vampire extraordinaire, meet the FBI (?) and the Chicago police (as usual) chasing Bud and his cohorts, Maeve, a monk of The Order Of St. Michael, and Ivy who are on a mission to find Bud’s missing teleportation wristband and grandfather. Is it the author’s (JB Michaels) intention to make the reader buy and read the first two escapades (smart move, if true)? I would say so, since little is mentioned about his cadre of characters that would make sense to a newbie reader. As in his previous Bud Hutchins novels, the author has to come up for air. What I mean by that is that (almost used that, that) his novels race to the finish line without taking a break. Slow down! Even a pregnant pause would be acceptable (see Jack Benny, the master). I’m not criticizing the author’s work...just trying to make it less dizzy. Okay’ I’ll give you a taste of the first 30 pages, or so.

Bert, Bud’s android, is (for some reason) running amok throughout Chicago. Bud finally catches up and is forced to behead him. Bud returns to his old office in his grandfather’s house to find it trashed and with a tree symbol carved on his desk. Later Bud is arrested by the Chicago police (for aggravated assault) and then handed over to the FBI, led by Special Agent Jordan. They have pictures of Bud chasing his rampaging Android all over Chicago. Agent Jordan takes a cuffed Bud away in his vehicle, but is pursued by Ivy and Maeve, who with the aid of her special elixir powers, burst Agent Jordan’s car into flames. Jordan gets away with Bud to a yacht in the lake. Bud asks Agent Jordan, “What do you want?” Jordan says, “We want your tech. We are willing to give you all the resources you need to invent, reinvent, and innovate for Uncle Sam.” Maeve tries to sneak a peek on what’s going on in the yacht and gets captured by another agent. Bud’s demeanor shifts when agent Jordan says, “What if I told you I have the last known location of your grandfather? Would that sweeten the deal?”

From here on in, the novel takes off like a runaway train. Bud and his friends have a tall man, wearing a mask, throw a human head at them, get tricked by a dying old man and get gas bombed trying to escape the multitude of stalkers. When Ivy goes missing, Bud says, “First my grandfather, now Ivy. We have to move fast, or we will never find her.” Believe it or not, the pace of the story quickens! If it wasn’t for the relief of the short chapters, I would become discombobulated. Nevertheless. I enjoyed this third Bud Hutchins caper by JB Michaels and I highly recommended this fast paced novel.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: It has always been my goal to entertain and humor the reader, while pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of the author’s work. That includes best selling authors like J.K. Rowling of the Harry Potter series, Rick Riordan of the Percy Jackson series, Suzanne Collins of The Hunger Games series and Harper Lee of To Kill A Mockingbird (the strength) and Go Set A Watchman (the weakness).     

Sunday, June 2, 2019

The Book Thief

Jesus, Mary and Joseph! This was 550 pages of wonderful bohemian writing. It’s an extraordinary story about a very young madchen, Liesel, and a young junge, Rudy, during the 1940s on Himmel Street in the fictitious town of Molching in Nazi Germany. My opening phrase is used many times in the novel as a reaction by a character when surprised. Guess who narrates this novel? DEATH (“it kills me sometimes, how people die”)...yes, I said DEATH tells this story! But it’s more than a story about a young boy and girl. It’s about the fear of being discovered as a Hitler hater by the Nazis, or of hiding a Jew in your basement, or of searching for food everyday, or the everyday trepidation of bombing raids by the allies. The people on this street are not very nice to each other...or was it my imagination. Almost everybody calls a women, saumensch (bastard), men are called saukerl (human pig) and everybody is an arschloch (asshole). I never could figure out why that was. Yet, somehow these people of Himmel Street get along with each other to some degree or another. I thought their local vernacular (was this common in all of Germany?) was hilarious.
 
The novel starts off with Liesel Meminger attending the burial of her younger brother (doesn’t say how he died) and of her finding a book a grave digger dropped, The Grave Digger’s Handbook. Later she is delivered to foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann. Liesel doesn’t know why her mother left her (we never do find out why). She is nine years old and can’t read or write. Hans teaches her the alphabet which ignites her desire to read books. But like I said, the story is not really about a book thief, but a tale of living in a slum town in Germany during WWII. I found the characters delightful and despicable at the same time. Besides the Hubermanns, Liesel and Rudy (the good guys)...we have: the disgusting spitting Frau Holtzapfel; Frau Diller; Rudy’s buddy, Tommy Muller; the repulsive Pfiffiikus (no, I didn’t misspell the name); the hidden Jew, Max Vandenburg; Rudy’s Nazi Youth program enemy, Franz Deutscher; and, Liesel’s not so reluctant victim of stolen books, the frail Ilsa Hermann, the mayor’s wife. Even though the author, Markus  Zusak has a lot of characters, they are all easily remembered, while miraculously sticking to six main characters...good job.

Was the dark chapter inserts all from Death, or also from Liesel, such as,*** Rudy Steiner, Pure Genius ***, 1.He stole the biggest potato from Mamer’s, the local grocer. 2. Taking on Franz Deutscher on Munich Street. 3. Skipping the Hitler Youth meetings altogether?  In any case, it was a refreshingly unique style of writing, and I loved the short chapters (my fave).The author is quoted saying,”I often feel like that - that a story is watching from somewhere, waiting for the right moment to stand in front of you. The thing is, you’ll only recognize it if you think about it enough. It’ll come.” I like Death’s last line in the novel, “I am haunted by humans”. I believe this adult novel (my opinion) is considered YA, if so, it’s the best one that I ever read. I highly recommend this inventive story. Wow!
   
RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: Here are some other YA novels that I’ve enjoyed reading. I was surprised that very few made the the top one hundred list provided by Goodreads.com. The Book Thief came in at number 10. My grandson Kai read and reviewed another ten, or so, that I’m not mentioning. The following are five that I’ve read and their Goodreads.com ranking:

No. 8- Divergent by Veronica Roth (2011). A five faction dystopian Chicago world. If you are sixteen years old...time to pick your faction.
No. 9- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960). A novel of childhood in a sleepy southern town and the crisis of conscience that rocked it.
No.12- The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien (1937). The story of Bilbo Baggins and the spectacular world of Middle-earth.
No. 52- The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (1951). Teenager Holden Caulfield’s prep school failure and his three day romp in NYC.
No.80- Watership Down by Richard Adams (1972). The adventures of a group of rabbits searching for a better warren.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

IMMORTAL

The author sent me a copy of his novel to read and review:

Nick M. Lloyd writes an avant-garde sci-fi thriller that breaks out of your typical alien invasion scenario that sci-fi fans (like me) are used to digesting. I have read only one sci-fi novel that was anywhere close to Lloyd’s premise...that being the great Larry Niven’s Footfall. I appreciated the author using good judgement in keeping the main characters down to a handful. I read so many novels that have such an immense amount of main characters that it ruins the rhythm of the novel and forces the reader to take notes on who’s who...one of my sore points. That didn’t happen in Immortal. Even though I loved this novel, I found some minor flaws. I never fully understood why Dr. Kusr was in the story. I’m not a big fan of acronyms and this novel has plenty (MIDAS, MedOp, COBRA and SpaceOp for example), but since this novel involved an alien invasion (or did it), I see the need for all the technical geek operations. And one last thing...the pace was too slow in the beginning and way too busy in the last hundred pages, or so. You are probably asking yourself...I thought you loved the novel? I DID, but can’t help being so persnickety. So what’s the story about?

The story opens with Tim Boston and Samantha Turner on the job as members of the development team at MIDAS (Massive Integrated Data Analysis System), one of the businesses owned by Britain’s richest men, Francis Mackenzie. Suddenly, five of their smart screens sounded an alarm. Each screen displayed the same identical message, “We are the Ankor. We are ‘aliens’. You must obey us in full to survive. There will be no dialogue. We will send critical directives. A Gamma Ray burst will arrive in 164 Earth days. Three concurrent defenses are necessary. Deflector shield, survival units and Community bunkers. Individual instruction will follow." Wow, some opening warning or caretaker edict. Friend or foe? It’s too early to tell. The message was announced to the world’s populace along with every Earth government. “After twenty minutes of information bedlam, some relevant items appeared on the smart screen: Multiple governmental agencies across the globe have validated that the messages are coming from somewhere just outside the current orbit of Neptune...Gamma Ray burst arrival 164 days. Source unknown. Damage unknown. Large Gamma Ray burst associated with previous Earth extinction.” You mean the dinosaurs? This little tease was based on the first twenty one pages of the chilling novel.

The novel’s venue is mainly in Great Britain. A lot of Earth’s strategy is formed in the Prime Minister’s office. Colonel Martel, a committee member, somewhat agrees that the Ankor’s request for certain materials (to help make the shield) be granted and sent in orbit around Earth, But strangely the Ankor refused to answer any questions. Prime Minister Timbers asks Col. Martel, “What’s your take on their refusal to respond to questions?” Martel says, “We have to assume they have good reason. If the gamma ray burst is real then it probably happened between one to three hundred light years away and has been traveling for for one to three hundred years towards us.” Did I tell you that Earth estimates the alien ship to be a cube five miles high and five miles wide while traveling at ungodly speeds? Okay, enough already. You got your taste of this wonderful novel up to the first 35 pages. The next 378 pages are on you...enjoy!! 🚀🚀🚀🚀🚀

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: Did this novel need to get published by Amazon Fulfillment in Poland? I think it’s a shame that the big publishing houses would rather print garbage from the likes of James Patterson and his gang of ghost writers, Scott Turow, David Baldacci and of the champion of junk writing...Bill O’Reilly and his gang of ghost writers. Now don’t say that I’m being too harsh...I’ve read all of them. They are pure commercial writers and sadly are making a fortune.

Sometimes I wonder if writers like Nick Lloyd submitted their novel to Tor Publishing, who specialize in sci-fi and fantasy. Well anyway, congrats to Nick Lloyd for his original and satisfying story!